Motives Matter

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  • January 10, 2009


hiroko shikashio

foundry artists: hiroko shikashio

I can still be so religious.  I hate that.

Over the last 5 years or so, I have rediscovered the Gospel. Grace and mercy have been refreshingly renewed in my heart and my soul has been set free. Instead of striving to get to God, I am overwhelmed by what He did to get to me. I know that I don’t need to work for His love, perform for His acceptance, earn His favor. All of that is a free gift extended to me through Christ and received through faith. All that being true, I can finally stop seeking external perfection and start seeking the transformation of my heart. I can stop trying to earn brownie points with God, stop trying to present Him with a resume of my righteousness, stop trying to work on my behavior when He is more concerned with my heart. That’s the thing with being religious. You’re so focused on being right, doing right, that you can divorce your deeds from your motives. It doesn’t matter why you do something, as long as you’re doing the “right thing.”

Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Let me give you an example of how this sadly plays out for me. Marriage. I can be so religious in my marriage. I hate that.

I’ve read enough and hung around Gospel-centered people long enough to know that marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. And so husbands are called to pattern how they relate with their wives to how Christ related with His bride, the Church. Sacrifice, death, and surrender are to mark a godly husband’s disposition to his wife. So she comes first, you come last. In dying to yourself, your bride comes alive.

Ok, so that’s what a good husband does. That’s what a godly husband does. So, I set out to be a godly husband. But here’s the problem. I do it for all the wrong reasons. I die to myself and come in last place and put my wife’s desires above my own; but I do it not because my heart is beating with love for her, but because I love myself and want to feel good about what a good husband I am and how righteous I am. Is that warped or what?

I am far more concerned with my righteousness than I am with loving my wife. And she’s not dumb. She sees right through my “sacrifices” for her. So often, I die to myself and somewhere in my mind I’m expecting God to take notice. It’s like I want to say to God, “God, you bonded me to this sinner. But I’m such a good guy that I’m going to sacrifice for her sake. I hope you’re watching.” And since I don’t truly do it for my wife, I end up with little joy and feeling bitter anyway. The whole thing can become a mess.

Jesus always had harsh words for the religious folk who masked internal corruption with external perfection. He called them white-washed tombs – beautiful on the surface but packed with rotting corpses within.  Anyway, I’m still not sure if any of that made any sense. I guess I would just say, “Watch your motives.”  You can do a “right” thing, and it be horribly wrong. Repent cause it matters why you do a thing as much as that you do it. And if you grew up around religion, you should be especially watchful. Religion teaches you to fix your behavior. The Gospel alone fixes your heart.

All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.

Proverbs 16:2

Thanks be to God for His Gospel and that He is sanctifying my heart, my marriage, my motives, and all of me.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

One Comment

  • Avatar Abe Paul says:

    Well said…awesome last line..”Religion teaches you to fix your behavior. The Gospel alone fixes your heart.” Thank you for sharing!

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